The government ramped up measures against the coronavirus epidemic following new predictions that the UK could otherwise have seen 250,000 deaths.
The Imperial College Covid-19 response team – which has been advising ministers – said that even with the ‘social distancing’ plans set out by the Government yesterday, the health system will be ‘overwhelmed many times over’.
In its latest report, it said the only ‘viable strategy’ was a Chinese-style policy of ‘suppression’ involving the social distancing of the entire population.
It said such measures would need to be maintained potentially for 18 months or more until an effective vaccine became available.
The stark warning came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled unprecedented peacetime measures yesterday to try to control the spread of Covid-19.
They were announced as the death toll of people with coronavirus in the UK reached 55.
In the first of his daily No 10 press conferences, the Prime Minister called on people to stay away from pubs, clubs and theatres and to avoid all non-essential contacts and travel.
Under the latest Government advice, anyone living in a household with somebody who has the symptoms of a persistent cough or fever is told to isolate themselves for 14 days.
Mr Johnson said the measures were needed as the UK was approaching the ‘fast growth part of the upward curve’ in the number of cases.
“Without drastic action, cases could double every five or six days,” he said.
However, the Imperial College report warned that even with such a dramatic closing down of normal life, the capacity of health systems in the UK and the US – which is adopting similar measures – was likely to be ‘exceeded many times over’.
“In the most effective mitigation strategy examined, which leads to a single, relatively short epidemic – case isolation, household quarantine and social distancing of the elderly – the surge limits for both general ward and intensive care unit beds would be exceeded by at least eight-fold under the more optimistic scenario for critical care requirements that we examined,” it said.